Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Change agents get heat

Photos by Zoe Schlanger, from "Park Slope Bike Lane Protest Pits Seniors Against Cyclists" in the Gothamist.

Probably even in a world without cars, changing people's physical environment would run into opposition. In the U.S., rebalancing the mobility paradigm away from the automobile is a very difficult proposition.

Even people in cities are shaped and molded by the automobility paradigm without realizing it, and taking space from the car in favor of pedestrians, quality of life, bicycle, and transit goals almost always runs into big opposition, even by people who think they are pro-neighborhood.
Prospect Park West bicycle lane protest
E.g., someone sent me an email recounting a neighborhood planning issue in Capitol Hill, and how in his view people were defining having access to a large inventory of street parking spaces as a "quality of life" issue, and that reducing this inventory would reduce their quality of life. (Probably charging higher rates for residential parking permits would also be seen as a reduction in quality of life.)
Prospect Park West bicycle lane protest
I always joke that if social security is the third rail of national politics, parking (and treating the automobile owner as king and privileging the automobile in terms of mobility priority) is the third rail of local politics.

People don't want to have the logic of optimal mobility explained to them because they just know, somehow, that they are right, regardless of the laws of physics--you can only fit so much stuff into defined spaces and that many more people can be transported by bus or subway car than a traffic lane full of cars, and that more people and bikes can be accommodated in the same space as well.

This is also illustrated by this wrongly argued opinion piece, "Puncturing the myth of more roads mean more congestion" in the Washington Examiner, (from the aforementioned Weekly Standard conference supported by the Association of General Contractors of America) which maybe because the owner of the paper made a goodly amount of money in the oil business, seems pretty committed to automobility.
Amount of space required to transport the user the same number of passengers by car, bus, or bicycle
Amount of space required to transport the user the same number of passengers by car, bus, or bicycle. Image by Des Moines Urban Ambassadors.

Look at the text on some of the protest signs in the first photo above:

- The bike lane = fewer parking spots
- The bike lane = traffic congestion and danger
- Changing our lanes is risking our lives
- Don't block the (automobile traffic) flow

And that's in Brooklyn, and in Brooklyn and Manhattan, you have more sustainable transportation users--especially walking and transit--than in any other part of the U.S. except San Francisco. So not knowing any better, you ought to expect support for biking too, right?
Prospect Park West bicycle lane protest
The New York Times has a long piece, "For City’s Transportation Chief, Kudos and Criticism," about Janette Sadik-Khan, her allegedly bristly personality, and about how she has pissed people off in working to prioritize walking and biking within the city's mobility policies. (People don't seem to be so enraged about prioritizing transit.)

Judging by the article, she does need to work on her ability to palaver and convince resistant people. On the other hand, I know that dealing with resistance 24/7 is wearing and that it can be difficult, over time, to maintain an even keel. Even with support.
Prospect Park West bicycle lane protest

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